Saturday, February 23, 2019

Education: America vs. the World---Where Do We Stand? Pt 3 of 3 of Our "Where America Ranks" Series

The Greek inventor Archimedes once said that given a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, he could move the world. If knowledge is the fulcrum, then education is the lever which can move the world. Education can open doors as well as minds. It is not only the measure of success of the individual, it's the measure of success for a nation. Unless its properly nurtured, a nation will stagnate and eventually decay economically, politically, and societal. So, where does America stand in terms of quality of education when compared to the world? How does our students compare to other developed nations in the areas of math, science, and reading?

As we've examined in our previous two articles of this series, much of what we're told about America doesn't gel with the published facts. We have one the worst healthcare systems of any developed nation; in some areas such as prenatal care, number of beds, and availability of healthcare professionals we actually rank in the second tier along with second world economies and crippling income inequality which puts us near the bottom tier among developed nations. In terms of freedom, we again rank only in the second tier in several areas, and even overall, we're nowhere near the top. So much for being the "leader of the free world". Now, according to a 2018 report by Business Insider, the US ranks 27th overall in education; down from sixth place in 1990 (their report also ranks the US in 27th place in terms of healthcare).

The 2018 "World Top 20 Project" which focuses solely on education and its affect on each nation's economy, the top ten nations are South Korea, Finland, Norway, Russia, Hong Kong, Japan, Estonia, Latvia, Israel, and Sweden. The United States came in 24th out of the 201 nations examined. While that places the US in the top 25%, we still fell behind nations like Kazakhstan (15th), the former Soviet Republic of Georgia (17th), China (20th), Croatia (22nd), and Saudi Arabia (23rd). Why is that?

One explanation cited in the reports is the decline in spending by 3% while student growth increased by 1% between 2010 and 2014. Meanwhile, Turkey increased its spending on education by 76% along with similar growth in spending in China and Brazil. According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) which measures 15 years students in developed and developing nations, the US ranks 38th out of 71 countries in math, and 24th in science and reading; all of which placing the US well in the second tier. Interesting, the top nations were Singapore (which topped all three categories), along with Japan, Estonia, Taiwan and Finland in Science; Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Japan in Math; and Hong Kong, Canada, Finland, and Ireland in reading. What makes this so interesting is that these countries were all ranked higher than the US in terms of overall freedom and/or healthcare. As an aside, the top ranked US schools according to US News and World Report's 2018 edition, which are in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Utah, New Hampshire, and Iowa still fall far behind all the top Asian and several of the European schools (Kentucky, by the way, was ranked 34th while Indiana was 35th).

In terms of higher education, Masters and More, which publishes a ranking of the best countries to pursue a post-bachelor's degree based a Pearson, a multinational education and publishing company, the top nations are South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore with Finland coming in fifth. Rounding out the rest of the top ten are the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Poland. The US came in 14th out of the 40 countries represented and just behind Russia and ahead of Australia. The report looked at the primary and secondary school systems (which lays the foundation for higher education) as well as the colleges and universities. According to Pearson's CEO, Jon Fallon, the rankings "strongly reflect the economic growth of the countries", meaning that there is an obviously correlation between the quality of education and the economic success of each nation. But just how true is that?

The US spends more per student than any other country according to a Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report. The report says that the average amount spent per student from primary through high school is $10,759. However, the US spends $16,268 per student. As pointed out earlier, the US is, however, on the decline in spending per child by an average of 4% between 2010 and 2014. Meanwhile, the other OECD nations have increased their spending an average of 5%. Of course, that still means the US is currently spending more per child yet getting worse results than those who spend less.

The report suggests that one reason it that teachers in the US are seen as individuals who were unable to doing anything else whereas in other countries teachers are viewed as "professionals" on par with doctors, engineers, or lawyers. Accordingly, not only are they more respected in society, they are also better paid. American school teachers make on 65% of what their peers in other countries earn. The highest paid teachers are in South Korea, followed by Canada, Finland and Germany. In fact, US school teachers actually fall below the OECD average.

Another explanation is that the requirement to getting into a teaching program in other countries is much tougher than the US. Prospective teachers are expected to have higher GPA out of high school and do better on their college entrance examinations that their American counterparts. In Finland, it's easier to get into law or medical school than a teaching program. In addition, foreign students in teaching programs are required to take much more academically rigorous courses. They are also required to take continuing education courses, like their American peers, however, the courses are considered much tougher and more on par with other professionals.

Also discipline is far more strict in international school systems than they are in the US. Unlike the US, there is a zero tolerance for any bad behavior, back talk, profanity, sloppy dress (uniforms are the norm), and needless to say, violence against teachers or other students---even bullying---is a non-starter. These school systems expect---insist---that parents instill respect and discipline in their children and that carries over to the schools where physical punishment, though rare, can be enforced. Parents are also expected participate in any school functions. Failure to do so will usually warrant the attention of school administrators. I strongly suspect that excuses aren't tolerated.

Some have argued that bad behavior results from low income or "disadvantaged" children, especially among minorities, yet according to OCED, there are 37 other countries with are economically poorer and have fewer resources than the US yet they consistently outperform the US academically. One possible reason it that schools in Europe, and especially Asia, set and demand higher academic standards that American schools, and that translates into discipline in school. In fact, it's their official academic policy and practices. Children in Singapore for instance, are given a thorough assessment prior to first grade in order to determine if they meet the minimum grade criteria. If they fall below the bar, they must first be brought up to speed before being allowed to start.

Students are also regularly tested in ensure they meet minimum grade criteria before being passed to the next grade unlike many American school systems which "fail forward" students out of fear that parents will complain or allege "discrimination". American schools seem to have adopted the Washington solution to dealing with problems which amounts to kicking the can down the road and letting someone else deal with it. The end result is students graduating with a high school diploma but having only a functional eighth or ninth grade education or less in terms of reading.

In Germany, which is noted for its academic excellence, students are tracked academically as well as to their interests. In Germany, students may be tracked for higher education or for one in the trades, which is another key difference. In the US, it's assumed that all individuals are destined for college regardless of whether they are so inclined. As a result, you see students racking up crippling debt and ending up with useless degrees. It also artificially raises the bar for getting a job.

The majority of employment opportunities should require no more than a high school degree or perhaps even a six month or two year technical certificate. Meanwhile, critically needed trade jobs, which require less education and are far cheaper, go unfilled. In addition, these jobs typically pay much better than the average four or six year degree and have better benefits. In Germany (and the rest of the world), there is no stigma between someone in the trades and some with professional degree, which can't be necessarily said of the US.

So, in terms of education the US is no better off than when we looked at its ranking on freedom or healthcare. At best, the US education system is well out of the top ten list and typically falls towards the middle of the second tier. The main reasons do not include the amount of money spent on each child (we top the list), but on attracting less the best into the teaching profession. This is due to both the perception that a career in education is somehow inferior, therefore the criteria is lowered, and that teachers are poorly paid when compared to their peers elsewhere.

The second reason is that expectations for students are set lower for US students than elsewhere, and that includes discipline. Respect should be a given, not something we bargain for in order to avoid violence in the classroom. We've allowed ourselves to become so focused on meaningless labels as part of a group rather than on our potential as individuals. Students should be individually tracked and constantly monitored as to their performance. Parents must be made a part of the solution rather they expecting teachers to serve as their glorified, if underpaid, babysitters. Lastly, students should be expected to perform and not "flunked through" or "failed forward". They either meet minimum expectations and move on or their they don't. If they don't, they must be held accountable and meet the criteria before moving on. A high school diploma must be made to mean something again. Also, I believe way too much emphasis is placed on sports, especially at the Jr High School and High School levels rather than on academics. Only a tiny percentage make it into professional or even semi-professional sports but everyone needs critical thinking skills and know how speak and write properly along with how to read and
do math.

The third key reason is attempting to herd students through a system where they may or may not fit. Not everyone is college material and not every job needs someone with a college degree. If a high school diploma is restored to its former value, most graduates can handle the majority of jobs out there. Technical and trade schools are an excellent option for many students. They pay well, have great benefits and they're in high demand. They also can be earned quicker and at a fraction of the cost of a four year degree. Students who do chose to attend college should be strongly encouraged to obtain degrees which have some market value (ie: requiring a Art History or Minority studies degree to also have a mandatory dual major in business, accounting, or computer science). Coming out with a worthless degree and tens of thousands of dollars in debt makes no sense at all and creates additional financial problems down the road.

A nation's overall success depends on the quality of its citizens. A uneducated populace is a little better than herd of sheep waiting to be led to slaughter. It's one of the key reasons---if not the key reason---democracies and republics fall. For the tyrant, an educated populace is dangerous. They know the limits of government. They understand and will defend their rights. An educate citizenry also provides the best opportunities for a strong economy, and that means job growth and economic stability. It also means a better quality of life for everyone, and who doesn't want that? As our readers know, America is an Oligarchy now, run by a professional political class of plutocrats who think they know better than us. One can almost track their rise alongside our decline in education, and with it, our standing as a nation of free people. The only question we need to answer is this---what are we prepared to do about it? Lastly, I would like to thank you for reading and your comments. I hope you've enjoyed this three part series about how America ranks with the rest of the world in the areas of freedom, healthcare, income inequality, and education, which are at the core of every nation's success or eventual downfall.

The US was once the leader in healthcare and education--now ranks 27th in the world

US students' academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries

World Top 20 Project: International Education Database

40 Top Education Systems in the World

The US spends more on education than other countries. Why is it falling behind?

US News and World Report: Education Rankings

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